Micro Analysis: Ilya Kovalchuk is better than advertised – Habs Eyes on the Prize
It was another embarrassing loss to the lowly Red Wings last night, and the playoffs are rapidly becoming a foolish dream. This will probably be another lost season for the Montreal Canadiens. “Easy” points escape them. The urgency of the situation seems to not have impressed itself on the team — or they are simply incapable of pulling the weight of injuries. One way or another, the time to dissect all of this will come later.
For now, there are still positives to concentrate on. The main one over the past two days has been the play of Ilya Kovalchuk.
There is something to be said about having no expectations. That usually makes for the best surprises. It’s only been two games, and there’s plenty of time for Kovalchuk’s performance to crash — he has not played much hockey in the past couple of months and keeping a high level of intensity can prove hard once the adrenaline of the first few games runs out — but still, the player that showed up in Montreal is not the disengaged and slow forward I thought he would be. Far from it. In half the shifts he has taken in bleu, blanc, et rouge, Kovalchuk has been one of, if not the best player on the ice.
Calling him a defensive stalwart would be a stretch. He still has some moments where he double-covers opponents, going for the puck and leaving someone behind. But he tries. Those mistakes could fix themselves with continued high engagement and more time inside Montreal’s system.
Right now, more often than not, Kovalchuk positively contributes to defence. Here are a few examples.
The Russian forward plays defence aggressively. He prefers the winger defensive roles, and will switch with his centreman to move up the zone the first chance he can. But he doesn’t seem to cheat offensively at all. On the contrary, he collapses harder on opponents lower in the zone than most other skaters in his position.
In the first couple of games, he has been adding an extra layer of protection to the slot, cutting opposing passes heading there. It leaves space behind him, but he has shown himself aware of player movement to stop the odd back-door attempt.
He has also not been one to gun out of the zone, even if that is sometimes dictated by the Habs’ breakouts. He supports teammates. He remains low and finds outlets under pressure quite effectively, looking across the ice to hit linemates inside space after attracting opponents to himself.
Again, that might be his need to make a good first impression; nobody reveals flaws on a first date. But at least he shows himself capable of thinking defence first.
Another pleasant surprise is how hard he has been playing. He goes out of his way to throw hits, adding to the impression that he’s giving it his all. Big body slams are just a bonus. The real value is in how hard the winger has been skating.
It’s very noticeable on the forecheck. Kovalchuk doesn’t stop. He strides almost all the way into opponents and looks to free the puck from their grasp any way he can. If possession moves, he tracks it back at full momentum. He’s not all that quick, but a high motor and effort can compensate for a lot of flaws, including the limitations of a 36-year-old body.
The last sequence in the video led to the first goal for Ben Chiarot on Monday. Kovalchuk successively battled against two opponents on the boards to free the puck, and then followed it up by beating his check in a race to the front of the net to serve as a screen for the release of his defenceman.
It’s a sequence many coaches could use to showcase the immediate benefits of a strong work ethic. And it features a forward who was healthy scratched for long stretches in his return to the NHL.
Experience complements effort there. At 6’3” and 223 pounds, Kovalchuk is imposing, and has the skill to know how to use his size to his advantage. It’s a deadly combination.
Take a look at some of the sequences below.
As he skates in the slot to make a play on a pass or a shot coming to the net, he neutralizes defenders with his rear end. He turns to place it between his check and the puck, avoiding stick lifts. In the second clip, as he attempts a deflection, he backs his posterior toward a defender, forcing that defender to back off and brace for a reverse hit, which in turn makes the defender unable to neutralize Kovalchuk’s stick.
A player like Brendan Gallagher uses some of the same techniques to create scoring chances, but even with the added weight of his giant heart, the forward doesn’t match the size advantage of Kovalchuk. This is not saying that the Russian forward is more effective. Gallagher should absolutely reprise his role on the top line when he comes back; he’s a third of one of the best lines in hockey. Yet Kovalchuk still brings a different skill and physical mix to the Montreal squad, one they sorely miss, especially with Joel Armia out. He can finish in tight and set up others just as well.
Right now, if Kovalchuk can maintain his high level of play, especially on the defensive side, he will continue being a great complement to just about any line configuration. He can play both wings and worked especially well with Nick Suzuki and Max Domi on certain shifts last night. The Red Wings are not the best defensive team, and in turn, not the best measure of the success of a trio, but the cumulative talent of those three forwards could likely hurt even better defending teams if they can keep the puck on the offensive side.
All in all, a Kovalchyuk resurgence could give the Habs options. He brings a much-needed offensive touch on the ice and could help them avoid a complete crash of their season, though that might feel inevitable right now. If it comes to it, he also becomes another asset at the trade deadline, or even a piece they could potentially re-sign to another inexpensive deal.
Who knows? We are just two games into Ilya Kovalchuk Habs tenure. But it’s at least something to get excited about.
2023 Canadian Open: Live stream, watch online, TV schedule, channel, tee times, radio, golf coverage – CBS Sports
One last tune up for the U.S. Open takes place this week at the 2023 Canadian Open at Oakdale Golf and Country Club in Toronto, Ontario. The third-oldest running tournament on the PGA Tour schedule behind just the U.S. Open and The Open, the Canadian Open will feature a stout field as players look to find their footing ahead of the third major championship of the season.
The field is headlined by world No. 3 Rory McIlroy, who looks to pull off a rare three-peat. A seven-stroke winner at the 2019 Canadian Open at Hamilton Golf & Country Club, the Northern Irishman successfully defended his title three years later (due to the COVID-19 pandemic) at St. George’s Golf & Country Club. If he is to win this week, McIlroy will have claimed three Canadian Open titles on three different golf courses spanning five years.
Looking to get in McIlroy’s way is reigning U.S. Open champion Matt Fitzpatrick. Set to defend his title next week at Los Angeles Country Club, the Englishman has his sights on claiming his second victory of the season — as does his fellow countryman Justin Rose. The English contingent is rounded out by Tyrrell Hatton and Tommy Fleetwood, both of whom appear keen on breaking a winless drought on the PGA Tour.
Cameron Young hopes to find some form following a pair of missed cuts, as does Sam Burns. Shane Lowry and Sahith Theegala are eager at the prospect of raising the trophy, while Canadians Corey Conners, Nick Taylor, Adam Hadwin and many more look to put together a memorable performance in front of their very own.
All times Eastern; streaming start times approximated
Round 3 – Saturday
Round starts: 9:15 a.m.
PGA Tour Live: 9:15 a.m. – 7:30 p.m. — PGA Tour Live
Early TV coverage: 1:30 – 2:30 p.m. on Golf Channel
Live TV coverage: 5:30 – 7:30 p.m. on CBS
Live simulcast: 5:30 – 7:30 p.m. on CBSSports.com and the CBS Sports App
Radio: 2 – 7:30 p.m. — PGA Tour Radio
Round 4 – Sunday
Round starts: 8:15 a.m.
PGA Tour Live: 7:30 a.m. – 6 p.m. — PGA Tour Live
Early TV coverage: 12:30 – 2:30 p.m. on Golf Channel
Live TV coverage: 2:30 – 6:30 p.m. on CBS
Live simulcast: 2:30 – 6:30 p.m. on CBSSports.com and the CBS Sports App
Radio: 1 – 6:30 p.m. — PGA Tour Radio
Bobrovsky bounces back, Panthers win Game 3 of Stanley Cup Final – NHL.com
SUNRISE, Fla. — Before Matthew Tkachuk and Carter Verhaeghe were the late-game heroes for the Florida Panthers, Sergei Bobrovsky was back to doing what he did best.
The Panthers goalie rebounded from being pulled in his previous start to make 25 saves in in a 3-2 overtime victory against the Vegas Golden Knights in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final at FLA Live Arena on Thursday.
Florida still trails 2-1 in the best-of-7 series, with Game 4 here Saturday (8 p.m. ET; TNT, TBS, truTV, CBC, SN, TVAS), but has life now after rallying from 2-1 deficit with Tkachuk scoring the tying goal with 2:13 left in the third period and Verhaeghe scoring the winner 4:27 into overtime. But the Panthers wouldn’t have been in position to pull out the first Stanley Cup Final victory in their history without Bobrovsky.
He was at his best in the second period, stopping 12 of the 13 shots he faced to prevent Vegas from building more than a one-goal lead.
“I can’t even count how many huge saves he made tonight,” Verhaeghe said. “Probably at least 10.”
[RELATED: Complete Stanley Cup Final coverage]
Panthers coach Paul Maurice scoffed Wednesday at the suggestion that Bobrovsky might not start Game 3 after he was pulled in the second period of a 7-2 loss in Game 2 on Monday after allowing four goals on 13 shots. So, Maurice couldn’t resist asking the media postgame Thursday, “You want to ask who’s starting next game?”
Bobrovsky didn’t seem bothered that he was pulled in Game 2, saying, “It is what it is.”
“I only can control the things that I can control,” Bobrovsky said. “You try to give your best and sometimes it’s happening, so it’s OK. As long as you stay mentally [focused] and the series goes on, and tonight is a big win for us.”
Video: VGK@FLA, Gm3: Bobrovsky stops Theodore and Howden
Still, Bobrovsky wasn’t the same goalie in the first two games against Vegas as he had been in the second and third rounds of the Stanley Cup Playoffs against the Toronto Maple Leafs and Carolina Hurricanes, when he was 8-1 with a 1.51 goals-against average, .954 save percentage and one shutout.
Vegas utilized screens in front and took advantage of Florida’s defensive breakdowns on rush chances to score eight times on 46 shots on Bobrovsky in the first two games. It helped that Florida played with better defensive structure in front of Bobrovsky on Thursday, but he also elevated his play to make big saves at key moments.
Among them was a glove save on defenseman Nicolas Hague‘s open shot from the left circle at 4:05 of the second period and a right pad stop on Jonathan Marchessault‘s shot from the left circle at 5:49 of the second to keep the score tied 1-1.
“He’s been doing it for us all year and especially the last couple weeks,” Panthers forward Sam Reinhart said. “When we’re in lanes, we’re kind of back defensively collapsing, it makes it a little bit easier on him and he’s been making the spectacular saves at the right time, and that’s what you need at this time of year.”
“Every game he’s giving us a chance to win the game,” Panthers center Aleksander Barkov said. “And today, no different. He was incredible for us. Made some unreal saves in literally every period. He gave us the chance to win, and we used that chance.”
Video: Panthers earn comeback OT victory in Game 3 of SCF
Bobrovsky said he didn’t feel that different than he did in Game 2.
“I felt pretty comfortable last game too, but I feel good tonight as well,” he said.
Instead, he credited his teammates for the way they played in front of him.
“This game, the coaches gave us a pretty clear plan, and I thought the guys were executing it unbelievably tonight,” Bobrovsky said. “We defended very well. We didn’t give much space or room for them, or time, so that’s a big win for us.”
Blue Jays cut ties with pitcher Anthony Bass amid backlash over anti-LGBTQ social media post
Reliever Anthony Bass has been designated for assignment by the Toronto Blue Jays.
It’s the latest development in a controversy that began last week when Bass shared a social media post that supported anti-LGBTQ boycotts.
Bass, who made a public apology last week for the post, had been scheduled to catch the ceremonial first pitch by LGBTQ advocate leZlie Lee Kam when the Jays hosted Minnesota on Friday night to kick off their Pride Weekend.
The Blue Jays said pitcher Kevin Gausman would catch the first pitch instead.
The decision to include Bass was met with criticism by some on social media.
Bass has a 0-0 record and 4.95 earned-run average over 22 appearances this season.
Toronto called up right-hander Mitch White in a corresponding roster move.
Bass had shared a since-deleted video post urging others to spurn Target and Bud Light over the support they showed for the LGBTQ community.
He said in a scrum that he initially did not think the video post — which described the selling of Pride-themed merchandise as “evil” and “demonic” — was hateful.
“That’s why I posted it originally,” he said. “When I look back at it, I can see how people can view it that way and that’s why I was apologetic.”
Before Friday’s game, Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins said the decision to cut Bass was primarily motivated by performance and not by the pitcher’s off-the-field circumstances.
“There’s a myriad of variables,” Atkins said. “Performance is usually the driving one and performance was a large aspect of this decision. Distraction was a small part of it and something we had to factor in.”
Atkins refused to say whether Bass would still be on the team if his performance had been better.
“We’re trying to build the best possible team we can build,” Atkins said. “This was a baseball decision to make our team better.”
Atkins also said it was not “a realistic option” for Bass to land in Toronto’s minor league system.
“We won’t stand in his way to be with another organization,” Atkins said.
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